Technology Is A Procrastination Enabler, Not A Cause

Yesterday's post about useful iPad apps for students stirred up lots of interesting discussion, including debates over whether a tablet was a better choice for a student than a notebook PC. But there's one thread in the conversation I do take issue with: the idea that you shouldn't have any form of technology at a lecture, because you'll only get distracted.

Picture by Bryan Ochalla

Marty stated that argument pretty bluntly:

Realistically a tablet or a laptop only serves one purpose at university – to procrastinate.

Similar comments have been made in the past when we've discussed using technology at university. I don't doubt that you can waste a lot of time on a tablet or a notebook. But I very seriously doubt that the people wasting time that way would automatically become more productive students simply by switching to pen and paper. They would just find another way to waste time. Technology enables that behaviour; I'm not persuaded it causes it.

I went to university so long ago that I was the only student in my entire faculty who actually had a notebook PC (which in turn was so basic it didn't actually have a hard drive). I didn't take that machine to lectures; it was used just for writing. But the fact that writing things done was the only way to take notes did not stop people from procrastinating.

In any given lecture, there would be people doodling, playing boxes or noughts and crosses, passing notes or just zoning out. I was a fairly studious type, but if I thought the lecture was rubbish I would often find myself idly writing poetry or otherwise doing entirely non-academic tasks.

The point is that if you don't want to work hard, you won't work hard. Blaming the technology is just a way of avoiding the unpleasant reality: you're lazy. Pen and paper won't save you from procrastinating and wasting time, and you won't have automatic backups or searchable notes. If I went back to university, I know that's what I'd want.


Comments

    I do agree that technology makes it easier to procrastinate, I definitely remember using my old laptop to play games in the middle of lectures. Including using sockscap (which for some reason we all called cockslap) to get World of Warcraft running through the uni firewall.

    Having said that I also remember a lot of procrastination at uni where I didn't have any technology to use at the time.

    That's a ridcuolous claim.

    I spent as much time drawing in a note book, sketching out program ideas and basically not really paying attention at school as I spent time wasting with my laptop at Uni (I was also the only person who had one and I was doing a IT course :P).

    I don't think it matters to be honest, if you want to waste time, you can find plenty of creative ways to do it.

    technology does have that addictive quality to it though- I found that I could doodle and still listen, but it's hard to focus on the lecture when you're reading something in depth on the net. (or checking facebook.) You're right, though, in saying that the computer isn't forcing me to be distracted.

    I think we are missing the real point here - if you are procrastinating in your lecture you're not paying attention. Therefore you are not engaged and moreover the educator is not engaging with you.

    In my view this is all too common in education. Why are we still delivering content in the same way when its been proven that people learn and gather knowledge completely differently in modern society.

    I compare, my last 2 Uni modules - one is delivered entirely electronically, weekly video conferences (due to it being a distance course) with a throughly engaging and interesting lecturer. This subject (from what I am told) has a higher than normal pass rate. My second is also delivered via distance method. Signup, your folder of material and 2 text books are posted out. 1st assignment is due on X date, second is due on X date. Thanks for coming. Zero interaction with the lecturer and therefore zero engagement with the subject.

    Don't blame technology when it is you and I that are solely responsible for our actions. Enabler or not, it is unto your discipline and self control to regulate what your actions.

    Totally agree with the point raised in this article: people make their own decisions. Agree also that teachers need should try to be engaging but ultimately (at tertiary level), students need to take responsibility for their own eduction as educators are often primarily subject-matter experts (as they should be).

    "writing things done" should be "writing things down"

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